JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The first step in beating any kind of problem with substance abuse is admitting that a problem exists.
Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Ace Sanders is doing that.
It was certainly big news that Sanders admitted on Tuesday night that he’s facing a four-game suspension, which a source close to the team confirmed was for a second violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. But the bigger story is how Sanders has chosen to deal with his issue.
He’s putting his football career on hold and devoting his complete attention to making sure he gets the help he needs. NFL rules allow Sanders to participate in training camp and the preseason and to also participate in team meetings during his suspension, but Sanders has chosen instead to get counseling.
It’s not a route that most players choose. Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine said earlier this week that he expects receiver Josh Gordon to report to training camp on Friday and be on the field despite the fact that he’s facing what could be an indefinite suspension for his latest violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon remained with the team throughout training camp, the preseason, and his four-game suspension at the beginning of the 2013 season. The team also got special permission from the NFL to allow Blackmon to travel to the West Coast for a week with the rest of the team between road games at Oakland and Seattle. All that was done in the hope that being around his teammates and coaches would help Blackmon better handle the suspension.
It obviously didn’t work because Blackmon was caught again after four games and is now suspended indefinitely. Remember, too, Blackmon's repeated denials that he has a problem with alcohol or substance abuse.
Sanders, though, believes counseling is more important than trying to hold onto his spot as the Jaguars’ No. 2 receiver, which he will undoubtedly now lose to either Marqise Lee or Allen Robinson, the Jaguars’ second-round draft picks. That’s why he won’t be on the field when the Jaguars begin camp on Friday.
"This is just solely something that I felt I needed to do," Sanders said. "… I’ve made some mistakes that I do regret, that I do honestly regret. I could have handled situations a little differently. I’m still just dealing with it. I’m trying to be a better person and a better teammate for everybody and everybody around me.
"I decided to go seek that help, get that attention that I need. Hopefully, somebody can help me out and I should be okay. I should be fine. I just want to get better and come back and be ready to play."
Sanders was poised throughout a roughly 10-minute conference call with reporters -- which he initiated -- but he is undoubtedly worried about his future. But it seems he’s more concerned about his health and his family, which includes an infant daughter, than his football career. That should be an indication that he really does want to get help.
That doesn’t excuse the fact that Sanders made a stupid decision, one which clearly impacts everyone else on the team. The offense had few proven receivers and it now has one less and will have to rely even more upon two rookies.
But give Sanders credit for publicly acknowledging his mistake and apologizing. Give him even more for recognizing he has a problem and making getting better the No. 1 priority.